Correction: The reference to Stephanie Brown’s comment in the meeting was clarified to show that she was referring to the short-term rental market; she also noted that she doesn’t believe that all non-hotel development is “low value.”

Asheville hoteliers bristled Wednesday at news about possible new city development regulations that would directly affect them.

Asheville City Councilwoman Julie Mayfield delivered the update to the Buncombe County Tourism Development Authority, a board made up of local hotel owners and executives. Mayfield is an ex-officio member of the board. She made her comments the morning after City Council agreed to continue pursuing new regulations aimed at slowing the pace of downtown development in general, and the construction of new hotels in particular.

The discussion of new regulations follows last year’s City Council elections, which saw three new local politicians, including Mayfield, chosen to represent city voters. All three took up the community discussion of the impact of tourism, and the hotel boom, on local residents. Two of them – Keith Young and Brian Haynes – specifically expressed their support of policies aimed at slowing development, seen by some as favoring hotel owners and tourists at the expense of an over-taxed infrastructure and a lower quality of life for residents.

Two new downtown hotels have already opened this year, and three more are under construction. Several more hotel projects, downtown and around Buncombe County, are at various points of consideration and completion.

The new city ordinances would lower the size of proposed developments that come before Asheville City Council for a final review and approval. More directly for hotel owners, City Council members expressed support for reviewing any and all hotel development plans not just downtown, but citywide, according to media reports.

Council members on Tuesday didn’t vote on any of the proposals, which are still being developed.

On Wednesday Mayfield, who joked a couple of times about making a fast getaway, explained to the tourism board members that the goal of the new regulations was to keep intact the city’s independent, historic nature. Another goal, she said, was striking a balance between fostering tourism while also mitigating the impact of more tourism on locals.

“There was consensus about this, that downtown is in a very different place now,” than it was in 2010, when City Council installed its current downtown development rules in an effort to foster more construction, which was stalled amid the economic slowdown of the Great Recession.

“Downtown is a special place, we want to keep it unique, and to the degree new development is coming in and impacting that feel, we think it is important to have council have a role in that,” she said.

“We want to be sure the investment is benefitting the city and not just the person building that building,” Mayfield said. City Council has sought, and will continue to seek, public input, she added.

“I want to encourage you if you have concerns, please let us know. Please do not assume that door is shut and decisions have been made on all of these things. We’re not all these wacky people over here,” she said, in a facetious reference to City Council and its decision-making process.

TDA board member Himanshu Kavir, a member of a family that has owned hotels in the Asheville area for three decades and who has submitted plans to build a new 100-room, seven-story hotel on the downtown side of the Beaucatcher Tunnel call the Element hotel, said he actively participated in City Council’s public outreach.

Kavir said he attended a meeting at Pack Library where the new regulations were proposed, and said “the overall feeling I got as there was not an overwhelming majority of people who felt hotels should be treated differently. It felt like (city staff) didn’t get the answer they were looking for, so they went and did the online survey.”

Kavir continued: “So, where I appreciate the comment about come talk to Council, it feels like Council has already made the decision.”mayfield_hotels_2_asheville_2016

Mayfield said the decision about carving out hotels specifically for review probably already was a done deal. “The horse is probably out of the barn” on that, she said, adding that “a lot of people we need to be responsive to have a very strong concern about the number and size of hotels, particularly downtown.”

Still, she said, there are specific decisions yet to be made on the issue. “This is not our business. This is your business,” she said. “We share a common interest in the success of Asheville.”

Mayfield’s update came on a day when four past chairmen of the TDA board were in attendance, all of whom have had long experience in the local hotel and tourism industry. They were: John Winkenwerder, co-owner and managing partner of South Asheville Hotel Associates; Steve Miller, former executive vice president of The Biltmore Company; Herman Turk, vice president of Windsor Management, where he oversees the Renaissance Hotel in Asheville and nine other hotel properties; and Craig Madison, former long-time general manager of the Grove Park Inn and current vice president of hospitality at The FIRC Group, which is building the new Cambria Suites hotel downtown.

Winkenwerder asked Mayfield why City Council wanted to review all hotels across the city. He said comparing hotels in the city’s central business district to those further out is “apples and oranges.”

If City Council reviews apply to hotels “almost countywide, that becomes very political. If the developer has a favorable relationship with the city, it gets approved. It puts the body above the world in deciding what’s good and what’s not good in most of Buncombe County,” Winkenwerder said. If the new rules apply to hotels outside the confines of downtown Asheville, “it becomes incredibly subjective,” he said.

John McKibbon of McKibbon Hospitality, which has two new hotels under construction in the heart of downtown, said the discussion also begs the question of “what is definition of downtown. You can go a block away from that line and it is still downtown,” he said.

Mayfield responded that City Council has concerns beyond the central business district.

Stephanie Brown, executive director of the Asheville Convention and Visitors Bureau that reports to the TDA, cautioned that extra review of any hotel larger than 20 rooms may have an unintended consequence of driving “lower-value development in lieu of hotels” in the short-term rental market.

Jim Muth, co-owner of the Beaufort House Inn bed and breakfast, said, “I think it is important to understand we live here and our product is the city, as well. A bad experience for a guest diminishes the success of our business. If we could create a better dialogue, some more formal thing where we are face-to-face,” a great understanding between City Council and hotel owners, Muth said.

Mayfield acknowledged that more discussion would be productive, and wondered aloud if the new Asheville Lodging Association could get involved. The association is a lobbying group and a member of the North Carolina Restaurant & Lodging Association. Madison is president of the association.

Correction: The reference to Stephanie Brown’s comment in the meeting was clarified to show that she was referring to the short-term rental market; she also noted that she doesn’t believe that all non-hotel development is “low value.”

16 Comments

  1. The council’s plan to squash hotel building downtown and perhaps elsewhere in the city will have 2 primary effects:

    1. Hoteliers who have already build will be enriched because potential competitors will be unable to add supply, or will have to add more costly supply due to building size limitations.

    2. Areas just outside the new restricted zone will see new hotels and land owners of that land will reap an unanticipated reward. If the council limits the entire city, the growth will occur in the county.

    3. The misguided attempt to limit hotel rooms in order to reduce infrastructure burdens will fail. In fact, it will exacerbate the problem versus the status quo. Wouldn’t we want more people staying downtown and walking around versus driving in from Woodfin?

    And lastly, the “concern” posters have about perhaps too much hotel investment is humorous. If investors want to put up money they’ll live with the consequences. If lenders want to try to make a buck they’ll live with the risks as well.

  2. Thanks to Mr. Summers for further explanation.

  3. Would attitudes towards hotels be more favorable if the TDA used more of its money for city infrastructure that was directly impacted by tourists?

    • Maybe, but they won’t.

      • If they saw that move as a way of creating goodwill as well as helping the city in which they operate, why are they opposed? McKibben gives money to various “goodwill” projects. The Affordable Housing Trust? Wouldn’t it make more sense for him to advocate spending TDA dollars on infrastructure, as well as “heads in beds,” rather than his own (company’s) money? It sounds like enlightened self-interest. Can anyone explain? Are there legal restrictions about using some of the TDA money on infrastructure projects, such as sidewalks (which tourists) use, parking decks (which tourists use), beautification of streets (which tourists use), biking trails (which tourists could use), etc. What’s the problem?

        • The Buncombe County TDA will tell you that the legislation restricts how the money can be used:

          “3/4 used only to further the development of travel, tourism, and conventions in the county through State, national and international advertising & promotion, and 1/4 remitted to a Tourism Product Development Fund to provide financial assistance for major tourism projects in order to significantly increase
          patronage of lodging facilities in Buncombe County.”

          Each County in the state has different restrictions – some allow occupancy tax to be used for whatever the City or County wants. Several specifically direct some of the money to parking decks, etc. If the Buncombe TDA wanted the capability to use that money to help offset infrastructure costs to the City, you can bet the legislature would have given it to them when they raised the tax last year. But the TDA doesn’t want the capability to spend the money that way – it’s all about more tourism advertising, and that’s it. City taxpayers will forever be stuck with the costs of tourism, while the hotel owners profit.

          • To be fair, the TDA has earmarked some small percentage towards projects that the City also wants, like greenways. The argument could be made that this allows the City to re-direct some of the money they would have spent on those projects, to infrastructure costs. But I suspect it’s a drop in the bucket.

  4. Local residents who question whether the incredible pace of hotel construction is healthy for the community are not “anti-hotel”, nor are we “wacky people”. There is a growing discussion nationally about whether the hotel industry is overbuilding after the recession. Articles just from the past year:

    “Is the Hotel Sector Due for a Setback?”
    “Is Delaware adding too many hotels too fast?”
    “Is O.C. building too many hotels? 5 things to know”
    “Could California Have Too Many Hotels in the Works?”
    “Charleston Mercury – How many hotels are too many”
    “Too Many Hotels Coming On Line in Miami?”
    “Too many hotels in NOLA – New Orleans Message Board”
    “Does Baton Rouge have too many downtown hotels?”
    “Greenville prepares for a wave of new hotels and apartments – how much is too much?”

    This isn’t just happening in Asheville – the hotel industry is going bats*** overbuilding everywhere they can, nationally. We should be able to voice concerns about whether this kind of development is healthy without the suggestion that it is “wacky”.

  5. “It felt like (city staff) didn’t get the answer they were looking for, so they went and did the online survey.”

    No surprise there. Anyone who reads this blog (and others) knows that there is no shortage of anti-hotel trolls online every day. I just wish there had been such outrage over the growing number of breweries before “Beer City” reached, then exceeded, critical mass. They are just as much to blame for the current situation as greedy developers.

    • What is your evidence that it has exceeded critical mass? Seems there are more still emerging and no one is going out of business.

      • By business standards you are correct, there are more lots to be filled for more beer to be brewed and more $ to be hoovered in.

        By MY STANDARDS, as someone who lives and plays here, the stifling crowds, the drunken hoards, the increasing number of bums and buskers (hard to tell them apart sometimes) and the streets filled with trash, poop and dog feces are ample proof that “Beer City” has gotten way out of hand.

        But hey, if worshiping the almighty $ is how you measure success, then congrats! Watch where you step!

        • “…and the streets filled with trash, poop and dog feces…”

          But enough about our Republican friends.

          • Obviously you have never been to a Democratic neighborhood…trash on the streets, cars up on blocks, graffiti, and yes dog poop from the lazy Dems who don’t feel they have to pick up after their dogs that are not properly vaccinated.

  6. Jason – this paragraph seems incomplete. Can you finish it & tell us what Julie was referring to when she said “wacky people”?

    ““I want to encourage you if you have concerns, please let us know. Please do not assume that door is shut and decisions have been made on all of these things. We’re not all these wacky people over here “

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